If there’s one thing comic book fans love to do, it’s read comics. That much should be obvious, shouldn’t it? But if there’s two things comic book fans love to do, it’s read comics and recommend them to other people. Whether these recommendations are passed on to fellow nerds or to the innocent and uninitiated, most comic people absolutely love their fandom, and want to share that love with as many others as possible. However, sometimes those in the four-color community forget just how dense and intimidating comic books can appear to an outsider. There are certain books that really should be treated as intermediate comics, best left alone until they can be fully appreciated.
Some comic books are simply written for comic book fans. They’re written by fans, and they make use of the decades of backstory and tropes that only veteran readers can appreciate. Sometimes, a writer will use all of that continuity to weave an amazing tale that makes the most of the pre-established history. While this can be exciting, it’s important to remember that without knowing all the relevant details, things might not make a whole lot of sense. You should wait, then, to get up to speed on your knowledge before you read these comics only fans of comic books can appreciate.
Kingdom Come, a 1996 collaboration by two all-time comic legends in Mark Waid and Alex Ross, is considered by many to be the single greatest book DC Comics has ever published. Set in a semi-dystopian future, Kingdom Come was as much a commentary on the state of the comic book industry at the time as it was an engrossing and sometimes tragic tale. Set several decades ahead of the mainstream DC timeline, the book featured almost all the usual mainstay heroes as retired. The exception, of course, was Batman, who used robotics to continue his war on Gotham crime.
A new wave of heroes took over, one more in line with the extreme violence and pessimism of the ‘90s comic book era. Superman and friends were forced to confront this new way of thinking in order to determine which path was truly best. The story is entertaining to anyone, but in order to get the real “message” behind it, one has to know a far bit about the past (and future) of the DC universe and comic books as a whole.
Most anyone can read Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore's seminal work, Watchmen, and enjoy it. After all, it is widely considered to be the greatest graphic novel of all time. However, enjoying something and fully appreciating it are two different things. Watchmen is chock-full of amazing references and allusions that even veteran comic book fans might struggle to catch on the first (or fifth) read.
In fact, the entire story is centered around analogues of heroes from Charlton Comics, a defunct publisher DC purchased. Watchmen both set the tone for the future of comic book publishing and acted as an uncompromising assessment of it, giving it a level of meta-commentary that will go over most fans’ heads.
Crisis on Infinite Earths, published by DC in 1985 and written by Marv Wolfman, is one of the first event crossovers in comic book history. The series delivers exactly what it promises in the title, as it involves every single one of the multiple realities that existed in the DC universe at the time. DC continuity had been getting bogged down with its myriad Earths and various Supermen for years, so Crisis sought to simplify that by amalgamating the multiverse.
However, DC was not about to erase decades of continuity without celebrating it first, so Crisis involved all of the alternate realities and their heroes coming together to defeat the Anti-Monitor, one of DC’s greatest villains. New fans might find themselves wondering why there are two Supermen, or why one of them has greying hair, but older fans will understand the complex relationship between the two as it reaches its culmination in the story.
The cosmic wing of the Marvel universe used to be largely ignored, until the massive success of Guardians of the Galaxy brought it to the forefront. However, that didn’t stop Keith Giffen from bringing it all together for 2006’s Annihilation, a ridiculously large crossover that ran at the same time as Marvel’s Civil War.
Despite selling far fewer copies than Civil War, Annihilation is widely considered to be the better book, in large part because it was able to tie together the complex backstories of dozens of intergalactic characters, including Star-Lord, Drax, Silver Surfer, and Nova. The entire Marvel cosmos is an ambitious thing to take on, but Giffen crafted a dynamic tale that made the most of each character’s long and spacey histories, making this a dense but enjoyable read.